Gruit (alternately grut or gruyt) is an herb mixture used for bittering and flavouring beer, popular before the extensive use of hops. The terms gruit and grut ale may also refer to the beverage produced using gruit.
Historically, gruit is the term used in an area today covered by the Netherlands, Belgium, and westernmost Germany. Today, however, gruit is a colloquial term for any beer seasoned with gruit-like herbs.
Gruit is a combination of herbs, commonly including:
- Common heather (Calluna vulgaris).
- Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
- Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
- Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
- Sweet gale (Myrica gale)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Gruit varied somewhat; each gruit producer included different herbs to produce unique flavors and effects. Other adjunct herbs include juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, aniseed, nutmeg, cinnamon, mint, and occasionally hops in variable proportions (although gruit today is often sought out for lacking hops).
The word "gruit" stems from an area now in the Netherlands, Belgium, and westernmost Germany. The word could also refer to the herb mixture itself or the monopoly of its sale. During the 11th century, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV awarded monopoly privileges of the production and sale of gruit (Grutgerechtigkeit, or gruit license) to different local authorities, and as such was a de facto tax on beer. It is believed that Henry IV awarded the German clergymen the exclusive right to produce and tax gruit in order to gain the clergy's support throughout the Holy Roman Empire. The control of gruit restricted entry to local beer markets - brewers in a diocese were not allowed to sell beer brewed without the local gruit, and imports were similarly restricted. The gruit licensing system also exerted control over brewers within a city, as the holder of a Grutgerechtigkeit could calculate how much beer each brewer could make based on how much gruit was sold to them. Specific gruit recipes were often guarded secrets. In 1420, the town council of Cologne "directed a knowledgeable woman to teach a certain brewer, and no one else, how to make [gruit]."
The earliest reference to gruit dates from the late 10th century, and although largely replaced by hops in the 14th and 15th centuries, gruit beer was locally produced in Westphalia until the 17th century.
Outside the area where the gruit monopoly applied, other countries and regions produced ales containing spices, but they were not named gruit. For instance, some traditional types of unhopped beer such as sahti in Finland, which is spiced with juniper berries and twigs, have survived the advent of hops.
In both the area where gruit existed and outside it, the traditional spices were gradually replaced by hops, in a slow sweep across Europe occurring between the 11th century (in the south and east of the Holy Roman Empire) and the late 16th century (Great Britain).
In more recent centuries, however, ale, the words "beer" and "ale" have been synonymous, as is still largely the case in British English, though recently there has been an increase in a use, originating in the United States, where "ale" means beer other than lager beer.
The main factor for the replacement of spices by hops is that hops were cheaper (especially in the gruit area, where the price of beer flavouring spices was artificially kept high) and were better at rendering the beer more stable. This preservative effect is thought to have had a large impact on the early movement to switch over, although other plants commonly used in gruit mixes, for example sage, rosemary, or bog myrtle, also have antiseptic properties likely to extend the shelf life of beer.
Spruce tips as a local food ingredient have a practical aspect, as well; it is a plentiful resource in northern latitudes such as Alaska, whereas hops must be imported from the lower 48 United States.
The 1990s microbrewery movement in North America and Europe renewed interest in unhopped beers, and several have tried reviving ales brewed with gruits, or plants that once were used in it. Commercial examples include:
|Beer name||Gruit ingredients||Brewery||Country|
|Gruut Blond, Gruut Wit, Gruut Amber, Gruut Bruin, Gruut Inferno||Gentse Stadsbrouwerij Gruut||Ghent, Belgium|
|Beann Gulban||Heather||White Hag||Sligo, Ireland|
|Golden State of Mind||Chamomile, coriander, and orange peel||Ale Industries||Oakland, CA, US|
|Fraoch||Heather flowers, sweet gale and ginger||Williams Brothers||Alloa, Scotland|
|Alba||Pine twigs and spruce buds||Williams Brothers||Alloa, Scotland, UK|
|Myrica||Sweet gale||Hanlons||Devon, England, UK|
|Gageleer||Sweet gale||Proefbrouwerij||Lochristi, Belgium|
|Cervoise||Heather flowers, spices, hops||Lancelot||Brittany, France|
|Artemis||Mugwort and wild bergamot (Also known as bee balm or horsemint)||Moonlight Brewing Company||Santa Rosa, CA, USA|
|Alaskan Winter Ale||Young Sitka spruce tips||Alaskan Brewing Company||Alaska, USA|
|Our Special Ale||Young Sitka spruce tips||Anchor Brewing Company||San Francisco, CA, USA|
|Spruce Tip Ale||Young Sitka spruce tips||Haines Brewing Company||Alaska, USA|
|Spruce Tip Gruit||Young Sitka spruce tips||Wolf Tree Brewery||Seal Rock, OR, USA|
|Island Trails Spruce Tip Wheat Wine||Young Sitka spruce tips||Kodiak Island Brewing Company||Alaska, USA|
|Sitka Spruce Tip Ale||Young Sitka spruce tips||Baranof Island Brewing Company||Alaska, USA|
|Bog Water||Myrica gale (bog myrtle)||Beau's All Natural Brewing Company||Vanleek Hill, Ontario, Canada|
|Spring Fever Gruit||Organic barley, heather, and spices||Salt Spring Island Brewery||British Columbia, Canada|
|Various Weekly Offerings||Locally foraged herbs, flowers, roots, and berries as well as classic gruit ingredients||Earth Eagle Brewings||Portsmouth, NH, USA|
|Posca Rustica||Recipe based on archeological research at The Archeosite D'Aubechies - Sweet woodruff (wild baby's breath) and bog myrtle are just two of a dozen different spices used.||Brasserie Dupont||Wallonia, Belgium|
|Namastale||Juniper and rosemary||Church Key Brewing||Campbellford, ON, Canada|
|Dunes||Wormwood, mugwort, turmeric, lemongrass, and sage||Solarc Brewing||Los Angeles, CA, USA|
|Session Gruit||Chamomile and elderberries||Solarc Brewing||Los Angeles, CA, USA|
|Earl||Earl Grey Tea, lemon verbena, and foraged rosemary||Solarc Brewing||Los Angeles, CA, USA|
|Wine Trash||Granache grape must and Yarrow Flower||Solarc Brewing||Los Angeles, CA, USA|
|Sun Eater||Rosemary and dried lemon peel||4th Tap Brewing Co-op||Austin, TX, USA|
|Jopen Koyt||Sweet gale and other herbs||Jopen||Haarlem, Netherlands|
|A River Runs Gruit||Lavender, chamomile, rose hips, and elderberry||Rock Art Brewery||Morrisville, VT, USA|
|Spruce Stout||Spruce Tips||Rock Art Brewery||Morrisville, VT, USA|
|Zingiberene Ginger Gruit||Ginger||Schmohz Brewing Company||Grand Rapids, MI, USA|
|Ancient Gruit Ale||Wormwood, Grains of Paradise, Hand-picked Wild Yarrow||The Beer Diviner||Cherry Plain, NY, USA|
|Stop Trying to Make Gruit Happen||Barrel aged (6.5%)||Denizen's Brewing Company||Silver Spring, MD, USA|
|Irish Gruit||Gruit Heather tips, Rose hips (5.7%)||Dunagan Brewing Company||Gig Harbor, WA, USA|
|Gruit||Yarrow, sweet gale, and Labrador tea||Proper Brewing Company||Salt Lake City, UT, USA|
|Earthbound Gruit||Missouri Cedar branches, heather tips, basswood honey||Dangerous Man Brewing Co.||Minneapolis, MN, USA|
|Nursia||Star Anise, caraway, ginger, and spruce||Avery Brewing Co.||Boulder, CO, USA|
|Special Herbs||Lemongrass, hyssop, Sichuan peppercorns, and orange peel||Upright Brewery||Portland, Oregon, USA|
|groot||Clove, juniper berry, rainbow peppercorn, and caraway seed||Oliphant Brewing||Somerset, WI, USA|
|Witchcraft Gruit Ale||Dandelion, ginger, coriander, lavender, orange Peel||LyonSmith Brewing||Keuka Park, NY, USA|
|Acqua Passata||Thyme, rhubarb, mugwort||Retorto||Podenzano, Piacenza, Italy|
Since 2013, craft brewers with an interest in making gruit ales have banded together to mark 1 February as International Gruit Day. The day is intended to raise awareness of and pay homage to the historical traditions of brewing with botanicals.
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